“Schizophrenic” attitude to whiskey
In an article on the influential US business website Forbes.com, Joseph V Micallef, a leading wine and spirits writer in the US (who’s also a best-selling author and commentator on military and international affairs for CNN and Fox News), wrote of “the Irish government’s schizophrenic attitude toward the Irish whiskey industry”.
In ‘The Future of Irish Whiskey: Is Dublin A Help Or A Hindrance’, published last Saturday, Joseph Micallef points out that “the increase in Irish whiskey production, demand and worldwide sales is indisputable and impressive” but he’s critical of the Irish government, stating in the piece, “On the one hand, Dublin wants to encourage new distilleries and whiskey related tourism, seeing it as an important driver of rural development and a source of significant growth for the economy. It also likes the hundreds of millions of euros that the industry dumps into the government’s coffers.
“On the other hand, the Irish government has imposed one of the highest tax rates on spirits in the EU and taken a variety of steps to discourage the consumption of whiskey and other spirits. The Public Health Act recently tabled, being the most recent example.
“It is as if Dublin wants the lucrative tax revenue that the industry generates, the promise of rural jobs and development it can create, not to mention the tourism dollars and visitors it encourages, while at the same time preferring that no one actually drinks the stuff.”
Joseph Micallef goes on to state, “Many of the new start up distilleries will be challenged to obtain broad, international distribution. That means encouraging visitors, especially foreign tourists and more importantly, promoting distillery visitor center sales of their products, will be critical to their long-term survival.
“That’s going to be difficult if the Irish government is inadvertently making it difficult for these distilleries to promote themselves to tourists, while at the same time taxing their products at among the highest rates in the EU.”
Elsewhere he states, “There is something fundamentally illogical with the fact that Irish whiskey is more expensive in Ireland than it is in any of its major international markets” before concluding, “History has shown that it’s a bad idea to count out the Irish, their whiskey producers included. It would be a good idea, however, if their government didn’t keep shooting the industry in the foot”.
Roughly 90% of the visitors to our whiskey distilleries are foreign tourists. With an average expenditure of around $50 per person, whiskey tourism represents a $400 million segment to the whiskey and Irish tourism sectors, the article points out.
“It is very welcome to see one of the most-renowned international media outlets giving over space to critically-assess the success of the Irish whiskey category” said William Lavelle, Head of the Irish Whiskey Association here, “and to recognising the ‘indisputable and impressive’ growth of our industry.
“It is equally worrying that the reputation of the Irish whiskey industry and the credibility of the Irish Government are being put-at-risk from the increasingly-negative international perception that the proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is both excessive and disproportionate.
“Irish whiskey remains the fastest-growing spirits category in the world. There is widespread disbelief that our own Government could seek to hamper this growth by bringing in draconian measures at a time when consumption of alcohol in Ireland has fallen 23% since 2001.
“We are calling for removal from the Bill of the crude proposal for cancer warning labels which has not been subjected to any form of independent impact assessment. We also want a full exemption for distillery and brewery visitor centres from the proposed advertising restrictions in the bill, which would ludicrously hit some of Ireland’s leading tourism attractions.
“It’s not too late for Government to sit-down with our industry and agree reasonable amendments to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which both meet the objectives of the bill while protecting the Irish whiskey category.”